God Knows What We Need

Last Sunday, we talked about how God knows what we need… and how God provides for our needs! Well, I got a first hand experience in God providing for my needs on Sunday, the very day I taught this lesson!

To start, our projector hasn’t been working and we had to do without! Since our lesson was on the Israelites wandering in the dessert and complaining to God during that time, I decided to make the kids act as Israelites… and each small group was to be a family. It felt pretty chaotic having kids walk around in circles (and few that just couldn’t walk but felt the need to run) and their whining and complaining getting louder and louder. Well, when our time was over, I had both leaders and kids come up to me and say: “that was so fun!” “i had so much fun today.” “i wanna come back here.”  Initially I was just thankful to get this feedback and felt encouraged despite all the technical issues we had that day.

When I went out to the foyer to get lunch, I happened to be standing across from a parent that I talk to once in a blue moon. I, of course, started with a small talk: “How are you? How’s work?” Then she proceeded to tell me how much she appreciates our children’s ministry… and she said, “I can’t wait to read this months’ parent newsletter. I read it cover to cover… In fact, I save it every month! Thank you so much for putting that together for us. I absolutely look forward to reading it. In addition, I just want to tell you that my kids tell me what they have learned every Sunday… and I love that they get excited to tell me about it. We love coming here. Thank you!” To be honest, I was caught off-guard because my church doesn’t have a culture of giving feedbacks (positive nor negative) and sometimes I wonder “does anyone read the newsletters? why do parents like bringing kids to our church? why do kids like coming?” I actually told her that her feedback meant so much and her words were my God Sighting for the day because it was one of the most encouraging things i had heard in awhile at the church.

By now, I’m feeling pretty encouraged… and feeling like I’m on Cloud 9, filled with gratitude and great joy for getting to do what I do! Well, that feeling was quickly changed that afternoon as I met with few leaders. Don’t get me wrong… I believe some of our leaders do the best they know how… but I found myself feeling flustered and discouraged in the middle of our meeting. People often tell me that I think very differently about children, youth, & family ministry… and most churches are not ready for that paradigm shift. I always think “how different could I be?” Well, I finally really felt it… and I started to feel crazy trying to explain how I feel about children, youth, & family ministry (I won’t go into too much detail since this isn’t the point of this blog but if you’d like to hear my thoughts, I’m always open for discussion–i just love talking about KidMin, Student Min, & Family Min… so just message me!)

Anyhow, I left that day very deflated. This one incident had erased my joy and excitement… and all of a sudden, I found myself asking a bunch of unhealthy questions. That evening, two of my pastors texted me with encouraging words… When we came into the office on Tuesday, my campus pastor said, “I actually left that meeting feeling more thankful for you and your heart and your vision. As challenging as it is, I am so glad to be doing ministry with you.” Those were the words of affirmation that became medicine to my soul.

Often times, discouraging words and experiences can completely erase all the highs of emotions. As I spent some time processing through the events of this weekend, I was reminded that God bookended that meeting with encouraging words of affirmation that I usually don’t hear for a reason! God knew I needed to be reminded of my calling. God knew I needed to be affirmed of our kids transformation. God knew I needed to hear that parents are in this journey together. God knew I needed to hear that I was an integral part of the team. That moment, I was reminded that the truth of the lesson came real and alive to me!  How cool is that???

One more thing… if you’re a parent or a volunteer or even an attendee, do practice giving feedback to your leaders… both positive and negative (but negative should be done in love and with careful words)… encouraging feedback means so much to a weary soul… and constructive criticism will only help your leaders and ministry grow in a good way!

Kindred Spirits at KidMin

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

That’s exactly how I feel about KidMin people! They’re my kindred spirits! Perhaps that’s why I look forward to conferences or gatherings where I get to be with KidMins! I say this over and over… but they get my life! There is so much comfort and joy in being with people who get your life…

*****

It’s been a full week since I’ve been back from KidMin 2014 in Columbus, Ohio, and I spent some time reflecting on what God taught me last week. Well, to start… God taught me how selfish I am! Ugh, I know.. not a great start! Well, let me explain. One thing I was so looking forward to doing at KidMin was just to sit with my friends and just gab, gab, gab… gab about life, gab about ministries, and laugh a lot! I have so much fun with my KidMin friends that I have made in the past… and it’s always a big reunion to be with them! The biggest thing I was looking forward to at KidMin was to just sit, relax, and laugh a ton with my friends!

IMG_3134During Presenter & Staff dinner on the first night, we prayed over this verse on the left and for all the attendees as we colored outside the lines. I also specifically remember Chris Yount Jones telling us to be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading to those that may need a friend, a hug, or someone to listen to. Yeah, yeah… I know…

Well, that was Thursday night… and before I knew it, it became Monday, the last day of the conference… And i had barely seen my friends! I thought I would be up late with my friends every night just laughing our heads off, but that barely happened as I was busy getting ready for my next workshop or I was meeting with certain individuals, etc. I was bummed… super bummed! This is where God said “Gloria, stop being so selfish! I know you love being with your friends… but you’re not here just for you to be with your friends. You’re here to connect with others and to encourage them! Remember when you first started out in KidMin and how alone and lost you felt?” BAM–a total rebuke! Yup, I was selfish… (I never seem to learn that lesson well).

As I was confronted with this rebuke, I took a look back on my KidMin weekend, and I realized what a blessed time it was! I did get couple meals with some old KidMin friends that refreshed and encouraged me… but the bigger blessing was in connecting with new attendees, connecting with KidMins in my workshops and getting very encouraging feedbacks from them, getting to know new people through “Here Alone” connect group, and being a listening ear and praying mouth at The Shelter. A lot of these conversations took me back when I was a newbie, when I was struggling in ministry, when I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and when I felt like no one understood my life. I honestly don’t know if anyone I talked with really felt like they got something out of our time… but I was reminded that there are many that are still looking for their kindred spirits and I hope they realize that there are many in this KidMin World. My prayer is that everyone at KidMin left with at least one more kindred spirit in their lives… and that God would continue to use me to bless those that are discouraged and struggling in their roles as a KidMin because without my kindred spirits, I wouldn’t be where I am today!  Thank you God for last weekend and this great reminder!

Kid & Youth Ministries… More than Bible Lessons…

therapy-counseling-familyIt’s a general assumption that Kid & Youth Ministries is all about teaching Bible stories, lessons, and planning activities to the kids that come to church on Sundays! Yes, we do a lot of that… However, that’s not all we do! In fact, that’s not probably not the most significant part of what we do… Gasp! (I can just hear the echo of shock from some reasons…) Yes, it’s true… teaching Bible stories and lessons aren’t the most significant part of what we do! If you ask me, the most significant aspect of our ministry is loving them unconditionally as we journey with the individuals.

We, at church, may have the challenge of not having enough face time with the children (in an average church, an average child will only spend 39-45 hours the whole year in Sunday School… that’s barely 2 full days worth!). However, we have the unique opportunity to journey with them through various life stage as long as the family continues to come to church. Lately, I’ve been reminded that a lot of our kids come to church with baggage from home life, school life, social life, etc. While we give priority to teaching the Bible truths each Sunday, we also make sure each small group leader connects with their students on a more intimate level. Most of the times, that’s where true ministry takes place. We hear about a fight the child had that morning with a sibling, about how he/she got in trouble, about how the child misses a parent who is no longer living with her/him, about feeling lonely and sad, about their hurts, and more. Also in small groups, the kids get to discuss Jesus more in depth with their small group leaders, share good things that happened during the week, and how God answered their prayers. We have the privilege of talking through these challenging and good times. We have the privilege of crying with them and celebrating with them.

Don’t get me wrong… everything we do is because we have deep desire to help kids know and experience Jesus in tangible ways… but people often think kids and youth ministries are all about activities, events, and lessons! We plan activities and events to provide more opportunities for draw more kids. And of course, we want the kids to learn the Bible. But our job doesn’t end there!

As we come to the end of academic year and we also prepare for Promotion Sunday at church, many of the small group leaders tell me that it’s their desire to stay with their small group kids! This makes me happier than I can express… because they realize that they don’t teach a grade, they don’t just teach Bible lessons, BUT they’re investing in the lives of the kids that have been entrusted in their small groups. The relationship and journeying with the kids through the good and bad times is what we really do… and we do this by sharing the unconditional love of Jesus! Kids are experiencing Jesus through their leaders! It can’t get more tangible than that in Sunday School!

All the volunteers and staff are privileged to journey with these kids and youths… because we get to experience God’s grace and redemption in their lives when they make decisions to follow Jesus. We get to develop relationships with the whole family and become a part of their extended circle of influence in the lives of the kids. We get to see them grow and mature!

This past week, I got another invitation to a high graduation of a kid who was in my ministry when he was in elementary school… and I was filled with gratitude as I thought back on his life… I’ve been able to witness him growing right before my eyes… and from a cute little 2nd grader to a tall, handsome, and God-loving young man!

If you ask me, the most significant things that all the volunteers and I do isn’t teaching Bible stories and lessons… but it’s really investing in growing relationship with the kids and families… It’s not easy at times, but I absolutely love what I do!

Church Stuff Doesn’t Have To Be Boring…

boring meetingI recently had the opportunity to train children’s ministry leaders and volunteers at a local small church.  I have to admit that I was somewhat dreading this event because it was in the middle-of-nowhere in Central California.  I just wasn’t looking forward to the 2-hour drive on my Saturday morning.  To my surprise, they actually had 20 volunteers show up… this is amazing given that they have around 40 children on Sundays.

We spent about 2 hours together.  We laughed a lot… we made lots of noise.  We jumped up and down.  We used chenille wires to create things.  We used sticky fingers, rolled dies, and played games.  After our 2 hours together, many individuals came up to me to thank me for coming out to their church.  Many of the comments I heard were:

  • I can’t believe how fun this was!  I certainly didn’t expect this training to be so active, interactive, and fun!
  • My daughter (6 yrs old) was upset that I dragged her to church on Saturday morning because I couldn’t find a sitter.  But she had so much fun that she can’t wait to come back to church on Sunday!
  • You make children’s ministry so fun!
  • This is the most fun I had at a church meeting!

Well, I’m very pleased that everyone had so much fun… but it got me thinking… Why do people automatically assume that any training at church, including the ones for children’s ministry, is going to be boring?  Well, it’s probably because that’s their past experience with any ministry workshops and/or trainings.  Well, first of all, I believe that if you work with kids or youths, you just can’t have boring, non-interactive trainings.  We must lead by example, and if the leaders don’t know how to have fun, build relationships, and interact, how can we expect the kids to do the same?  Secondly, I believe a team that laughs together stays and grows together… so I believe having fun together is a big component of a successful team!

So people…. please… let’s stop making church stuff boring… and let’s bring the fun back… especially for children and youth ministry stuff!!!  Afterall, the Bible is actually the most exciting book ever written… and face it, living a Christian life definitely isn’t boring! Let’s have fun!!!

At one of my workshops at KidMin Conference... we love to have fun!

At one of my workshops at KidMin Conference… we love to have fun!

A Tale of Three Boundaries…

This past weekend, I had the privilege of leading a workshop on teaching preteens and teens about helping them to say YES to God’s plan for dating, marriage, and sex!  I know, God’s crazy sense of humor in that…  🙂

As we’re discussing setting rules for teens, we shared a lot of stories from our own teen years.  Three distinct stories stood out to me:

  1. One attendee shared that his parents set strict rules, very strict boundaries without explaining them to him.  He had questions upon questions.
  2. Another attendee shared that while she was given distinct boundaries, her parents never brought God into the equation.  They were rules for rule-sake, and she still rebelled.
  3. Another attendee broke out in tears as her friend next to her shared the hurt she was recounting as she thinks about lack of boundaries she had growing up.  She had many, many regrets of the mistakes she had made simply because there were no boundaries in her life.

boundaryAll of these stories made my heart hurt and yet rejoice in God’s amazing grace.  Yes, I believe without a doubt in my mind that kids and teens need boundaries at every age.  However, we also need to explain to them why these boundaries exist.  Boundaries without why’s only lead to confusion, questions, and even rebellion.  No boundaries lead to lack of discernment and sometimes even conscience to do what’s right.  We give kids and teens boundaries because we love them.  We gives kids and teens boundaries because we want to protect them.  We give kids and teens boundaries because we want to help them make good decisions.  We give kids and teens boundaries because we want to equip and develop them to be responsible, God-loving, God-fearing, and wise adults.  Boundaries are needed… but they cannot be given without the why’s… and the biggest and the most important why is because of our relationship with Jesus.  We make our life-choices based on God’s leading because of our relationship with Him.

What’s also beautiful about these stories is that regardless of the questions, confusions, rebellion, and mistakes, God redeemed all these beautiful people.  I don’t even know their names… but their faces are super clear in my mind.  I just remember thinking–wow, they’re here!  They’re at a Christian Conference, and they’re sitting in a workshop that talks about helping teens commit to Jesus Christ and making life choices that reflects growing relationship with Jesus!  What a beautiful picture of redemption!  God is so cool like that!  God uses our past experiences and even hurts to help others… and these faces were so beautiful to me!

Set boundaries for kids and teens but explain why!  And regardless of what decision kids make, know that God can redeem even the worst questions, confusions, rebellion, and mistakes.

monkey see, monkey do…

monkey see monkey do

Yes, it’s been a very long time since I last blogged… The last few months have been crazy non-stop… Well, last week, I stopped by my friend’s house because I was in the area.  I got to spend some time w/ her 2 kids.  Her older one just turned 3 years old.  As I was trying to talk to my friend, he kept wanting to play with me.  We started building a tower on his colorful pegboard.  Once we finished our tower, he took the four pegboards and started quizzing me:

pegboardB:  What color is this?

Me:  Blue!

B:  Greeeeaaaaat Joooooob!  Now what color is this?

Me: Red?

B:  Veeeerrry Niiiiceeeee….  How about this one?

Me:  Yelloooooow.

B:  Yesssss!  Gooood.

This quizzing continued for about 15 minutes.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  First, it was ridiculously cute.  Second, I was dying because I could definitely hear his mom’s tone and and intonation in the way he said “great job,” “very nice,” or “good.”  He was talking to me as if I was the child. He was only repeating what he hears from his mom and other adults… We often talk about how scary it is “what kids pick up from adults.”  They pick up words, actions, context, attitude, and even intonation.  They truly observe everything…. and often repeat in the right context!

I was reminded how important it is for us adults to model for the little ones around us!  I’m also guilty of not being the best model around kids at times.  But if you’re around kids often or all the time, you really need to think twice about how kids are catching your behavior, actions, words, and attitude.  As they say, monkey see, monkey do!

How can you change what your behavior, actions, words, and attitude to be a better model this week?

letting go of my dreams for 2014

letting go of dreamI’m a dreamer by nature.  I used to get distracted as a child because I was often daydreaming.  As an adult, I still daydream about the life I wish I had or hope to have.  I’m also a planner by nature.  I used to have a blueprint of how my life was suppose to be.

Couple years ago, I will never forget the conversation I had with a dear friend of mine.  Her son had recently been diagnosed with string of special needs, and she explained to me the trial and agony she and her husband had gone through that time.  “You know, the hardest part was letting go of our dream for him and accepting the life God has planned for him.”  She went on to explain that even though they always wanted God’s will for his life, she and her husband still had high hopes and expectations of their son.  They had dreams of their son becoming a successful engineer (he’s always been very good at putting things together) or an athlete or even a pastor.  They had dreams of their child growing up to become an amazing husband and father one day, but she confided that he may not have the capabilities to put others before himself.  I felt the pain as she shared her struggles with me.  And then it dawned on me that this is a process every parent must go through for their children as well as everyone must go through at one point for themselves.  For my friend, they were forced to face this truth sooner than they had expected.

Lately, a lot of people seem to be having babies around me.  And every time I hold the newborn, I can just see the feeling of blank slate in the parents.  This newborn can grow up to be anything he/she wants to be.  This newborn has all the potential in the world.  This newborn can become the president, run a successful company, have huge impact in this world, or invent something amazing!  But reality is, that dream rarely plays out the way we imagine.  Soon or later, we all have to let go of the dream we have for our kids and even for ourselves and exchange them for what it is in reality…

I’ve been known to make a list of new year’s resolution… because I have high hopes and dreams for the new year.  As I’ve been thinking about this for a while, it dawned on me that I haven’t fully relinquished my dreams for my life for the life God has planned for me.  I still dream of fairytale life.  I still dream of fairytale job.  i still dream of fairytale family.  I still dream of fairytale romance.  It’s not bad to have dreams and goals.  I still have set goals to pay off all my debt (mostly incurred through medical and medication bills) so I have vowed to give up my not-so-guilty-pleasure of mani/pedi & spa treatments ’til I pay off all my bills.  But I need to fully accept the life that God has planned for me which is far better than what I have planned for myself and stop daydreaming of “what ifs” and “only ifs.”

So for 2014, I’m letting go of my dreams and plans for my life… and working on accepting the life God has planned for me… and take each day to enjoy and live to the fullest with gratitude!